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HCMC staff demand change, limit use of 'medical force'

It comes after complaints about the use of ketamine on police suspects.

Staff at Hennepin Healthcare allege "medical force" tactics like sedating, secluding, and restraining patients are used too often, especially on people of color, and is asking they hospital no longer train police on "excited delirium."

Doctors, nurses and other staff who formed the Concerned Employees group at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) launched a petition demanding hospital leadership audit how often "medical force" is used, calling for transparent data with demographic information from across the healthcare system.

The petition is seeking a public review of the data "with the aim of safely preventing and reducing the use of medical force, such as restraint and seclusion."

They're also demanding that when HCMC trains the Minneapolis Police Department, they "utilize a trauma-informed care, antiracist, anti-ableist framework," adding "we want to train the police just like they'd train us." The petition demands they stop training police on "excited delirium syndrome," which is a controversial diagnosis to describe dangerously agitated or uncooperative people and formed part of the defense in the trial of Derek Chauvin in the murder of George Floyd.

The petition claims the training it has provided the MPD without a foundation on mental health awareness and skills "has provided medical justification to oppression on the streets of our city."

It also alleges that the "misuse" of excited delirium diagnosis had led to "unnecessary, involuntary restraint and sedation" of people and disproportionately affects people of color, Native Americans, people with disabilities and others who are systemically oppressed. 

"Acknowledging that Hennepin Healthcare has been party to violence against oppressed members of our community — even while we propose to serve that community – is important. To those who have been harmed by these practices, we are deeply sorry and we strive to do better," the petition reads. 

The Star Tribune spoke with several staff members who detailed the disparities in applying restraints, sedation and isolation, and say Hennepin Healthcare resorts to the techniques more than other hospitals. 

This petition, which has 1,180 signatures as of Monday morning, comes a few years after Hennepin Healthcare was heavily criticized for its paramedics' use of ketamine to sedate agitated people at the request of the MPD.

Hennepin Healthcare in 2019 vowed to make improvements, but last summer a Minneapolis woman said Hennepin Healthcare EMS used the drug on her boyfriend, claiming it was because he's Black

In a statement to Bring Me The News, Hennepin Healthcare said it agrees with the goals outlined in the petition and vows to "continue to make progress" to dismantle institutional racism and address biases. 

But the healthcare system noted eliminating systemic racism is not an easy task, adding: "Our commitment is to do this thoughtful work so that real, sustainable change occurs, and that our communities see, feel, and experience the difference."

Here's Hennepin Healthcare's full statement: 

"Hennepin Healthcare leadership agrees with the goals identified in the petition – and we, too have a shared sense of urgency around actions to dismantle institutional racism and to address biases. Significant steps have already been taken toward these efforts and we will continue to make progress by remaining focused on tactics that help us achieve these goals.

"Work to eliminate systemic racism and truly transform health care will not be immediate, nor will it be easy. Over the past year we have been very clear with this message. Our commitment is to do this thoughtful work so that real, sustainable change occurs, and that our communities see, feel, and experience the difference.

"As a healthcare organization our role is to heal people and to keep our patients and our staff safe as we do this work. We have the largest Emergency Department in Minnesota, as well as an Acute Psychiatric Emergency Department located in downtown Minneapolis where a high number of agitated and intoxicated patients arrive by ambulance, are brought in by law enforcement, or walk in requiring care. In those areas and throughout our healthcare system, we are continuing to build the ability to evaluate and review our data around restraint use through an equity lens in order to ensure necessary changes in care are identified and addressed in a sustainable fashion.

"In addition, Hennepin Healthcare is a teaching and training institution and we have enhanced training for our own caregivers, including residents and medical students, so that we make the right early interventions to de-escalate first, and do everything possible to avoid using restraints. We believe the health of the whole population can and will improve as a result.

"We are committed to health equity as a priority and we know that quality and safety go hand in hand with that commitment. We are owning the work that we need to do as a system and will do so in partnership and transparency with our community. We have incredible staff dedicated to the service and mission of Hennepin Healthcare and we will stay at this critical work to realize health equity for all Minnesotans."

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